John 21:16c-17
Don’t Overly Grieve
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Peter’s public denial of Jesus was a serious crime against our Lord. It had to be dealt with publicly that it might not be deemed trivial.

Circumstances had not turned out the way Peter had planned. He had wanted a political Messiah, but Jesus was a spiritual leader. Peter needed to investigate his own heart. Did he love Jesus anyway?

His brashness needed to be tamed. Therefore, Jesus asked the hard question, “Do you love me more than these other Apostles love Me?”

Peter had handled the interview well thus far. He did love Jesus, as all believers do, and his braggadocios spirit seemed to have calmed.

Jesus could see Peter would be a better Pastor because of what he had experienced. However, Peter is wallowing in self-pity. It is going to be hard to restore his confidence.

John 21:16c (Holman) “Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.

For a second time, Jesus commissioned Peter to serve. The Master, trying to rescue Peter from morbid sorrow, wanted Peter to know He trusted him totally. The Lord was entrusting to the Apostle the most important thing Jesus possessed, His sheep.

Jesus did not doubt Peter’s love, but Peter did. Jesus knew of Peter’s sincerity, but the Apostle had cause to doubt himself.

He had been so eager, but fell so hard. He had loved Jesus, but found it to be a powerless love. He had been self-confident, but failed.

Jesus did not want the disgrace of his failure to stand in Peter’s way. The Master wanted to encourage Peter and to restore his confidence, but more testing had to be done first.

John 21: 17a He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

The question was asked a third time, as if it were of first importance, second importance, and third importance. “This nail was meant to be well fastened, for it is smitten on the head with blow after blow” (Spurgeon).

This third time Jesus avoided the word “agape,” and came down to Peter’s word, “phileo.” The Lord was willing to accept the imperfect love Peter was offering.

However dwarfed our love for Jesus may be, He will accept it. It ought to be a torrent, but Jesus will take whatever trickle we have and multiply it.

John 21:17b Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?”

The grief Peter had caused was now matched by the grief he felt. He had made the Master’s heart bleed. It was only fitting that his own heart should also bleed.

A loving heart always hurts when called into question. Peter feared Jesus was throwing a cloud on his sincerity, or worse, Peter may have feared Jesus saw something in his heart he did not see himself.

Jesus’ threefold hammer-stroke saddened Peter. It reminded him of his threefold denial. Any reminder of his failure would always bring him remorse.

Peter was forced to painfully retrace step by step the shameful path he had trod. Jesus held the Apostle right down near the foul thing he had done.

Peter experienced the sinfulness of sin. This was kindness, not cruelty. Peter saw his deed in all its terribleness, yet once the painful interview was done, he knew his sin was forgiven.

Forgiveness always begins with a trip down memory lane. We must be ashamed of our deeds before we can appreciate Jesus’ mercy.

John 21:17c He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.”

Peter felt trapped. He was trying to prove something his own actions had seemed to deny. In desperation he finally appealed to the only possible source of confirmation, Jesus’ omniscience. This is a confession equal to that by Thomas (20:28), for only God can read hearts. Omniscience is a divine trait.

This was Peter’s only chance to find a way to prove his love. What else could he appeal to? He could offer no real proof of love in the life he had lived thus far.

His only hope was Jesus’ omniscience. Hopefully, the Lord would see the flame, albeit small, burning in Peter’s heart. This was a desperate moment for Peter. His heart was trembling, even if his voice was not.

We share Peter’s dilemma. We have disappointed the Lord many times. We have fallen far short of what we ought to be. I cannot appeal to the deeds of my life to prove my love to Jesus. I sin. I hurt the Lord. I, too, must appeal to the Lord’s omniscience. “Lord, I do love You. It is not a perfect love, but You know all things, and You can see it in my heart.”

Experience had taught Peter to distrust his own self-evaluations. Yes, we fail Jesus, but he sees the flickering love. Cast yourself on His knowledge, and lean on what He sees.

John 21:17d “Feed My sheep,” Jesus said.

Thrice questioning gave Peter a chance for thrice confessing and thrice commissioning. Yes, the Lord did know Peter’s heart. This is why He was able to reinstate Simon.

The process had been painful, but in the final analysis restored hope to Peter. The guilt attached to his heart was now removed.

Jesus Himself restored Peter to his position of leadership. People might have distrusted Peter’s claim to sincerity, but everyone was forced to receive Jesus’ verdict. Peter once again became the leader of the Apostles.

Jesus knew Peter loved Him, and where there is love, there is a desire to do something for the beloved. Jesus knew Peter’s heart would break if He did not give the Apostle something to do.

This is a powerful lesson for us in this commission. We do love Jesus, and therefore want to do something for Him. What should we do? Feed Jesus’ sheep. We effectively show our love to Jesus by the kind ways we treat one another.

Feeding at Jesus’ table is no proof of great love. Anyone can use a knife and fork at someone else’s table. The proof of love is when we do something kind for our host. Enjoying songs and sermons is no proof of love to Jesus. If you love Jesus, take care of His lambs.

For the rest of his life, in contemplative moments, Peter probably heard Jesus saying, “Do you love Me?” I wonder how many hundreds of times Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, I love You,” and heard the response, “Then feed My sheep.”

Love brought Jesus to earth, and must drive His servants into service. Love for Jesus compels, and acts, expressing itself through love for His sheep.

Leave the lambs alone if your heart is not aware of love for Jesus. The main qualification for service in the church is a strong love for the Lord.

An unloving worker is hard, frustrated, a grumbler. We do better without workers like this. Love for Jesus is the only motivation that will cause us to carry on with a sweet spirit.